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Frances Temple grew up in Virginia, France, and Vietnam. About her third book she wrote, "The Ramsay Scallop is about our need for adventure and motion, for throwing in with strangers, trusting and listening. The story began to take form in northern Spain along pilgrim trails; was fed by histories, stories, letters, by the testimony of a fourteenthcentury shepherd, by the thoughts of today's pilgrims. Concerns echo across years-clean water, good talk, risks welcomed, the search for a peaceful heart. Traveling in Elenor's shoes, I found out how strongly the tradition of pilgrimage continues."Ms. Temple received many honors during her distinguished career. Her other critically acclaimed books for young people include: FranceTaste of Salt A Story of Modern Haiti, winner of the 1993 Jane Addams Children's Book Award; Grab hands and Run, cited by SchoolLibrary journal as one of the Best Books of 1993; and Tonight, by Sea another novel set in Haiti.
After his father disappears, twelve-year-old Felipe, his mother, and his younger sister set out on a difficult and dangerous journey, trying to make their way from their home in El Salvador to Canada.
"Si, Abuela. . . ."
"Felipe, patito, don't float out so far!"
Little duck, she calls me. I'm twelve years old, not so very little. I am not tall, but I have big feet. Which, according to my father Jacinto, indicate that I will grow big someday. Well, okay, ducks have big feet, too.
"Don't worry, Abuela! "
The life of a duck is pleasant. My head and shoulders are hot in the sun, my bottom and legs cool in the water. The maguey fibers I'm floating on fluff around me like a nest. My job is to push them under the water, to keep them wet. Settled comfortably, I paddle my feet gently, spreading my toes. This is the easiest job in the world.
Shading my eyes, making a frame with my fingers, I look across the water of the lagoon to the spit of land my grandparents farm. I frame their house made of sticks, thatched with dry leaves, lacy brown against the purple volcano. Abuela stands outside, a black and white rectangle in her semimournful dress. A stick fence to one side: that's the pigpen. A planting of maguey, spiky and blue-green. Around the house, sparse green grass, orange mud. Romy, in a short white dress, is feeding leaves to black chickens. From where I float, everything looks small, neat and complete. The kind of scene you could hang on the wall. Usulutan, El Salvador, School Holidays. I want to hold it the way it is — click! — as if I had a camera.
I wave to Abuela, a big wave with my whole arm.
"Should I come in?" I trumpet through cupped hands.
"Not yet!" shouts my grandmother. "The twine has to soaklonger!"
She calls it twine already, because that is what my nest will become. All morning she and my little sister Romelia and I have been stripping the fibers from maguey plants. Now I'm soaking the fibers, and when the fibers get soft enough in the water, we'll twist them into twine. Abuela trades the twine for things she needs at Don Ignacio's store — candles, rice, cough medicine.
It's fine with me to stay floating, dizzy in the sun. I scoop up cool water and drip it on my head, down my back.
When the sun lowers just a little, I'll come in. Romelia and I can begin twisting the twine. I want to be hard at work when my grandfather returns from his cornfield.
My grandfather Chuy usually comes home when the setting sun first touches the top of the volcano. Maybe, if we had a clock, it would be about five. I picture his machete hanging from his wrist, his digging stick over his shoulder. Sweat pours from under his hat into his eyes. His shirt sticks to his back. Sometimes he is so tired that he lurches like a drunk.
If Grandfather Chuy comes home and finds me playing duck, seeming to do nothing, I will be so embarrassed that I might as well just slip off down into the water, blub blub, and disappear forever.
Mama warned us.
"At your grandparents you'll be lucky if you have time to scratch your nose, she said. "In the country, work is life."
We've been here a month this time. I know by the moon, which was small when we arrived and is small again now. My hands are tough and my arms have all kinds ofmuscles. I love work, but I worry about displeasing Grandfather Chuy, justbecause of something I overheard.
The house has one room. My grandparents sleep separated from Romy and me only by a hanging blanket. I can't help overhearing their conversations; I lie awake a long time at night, especially when I'm sleeping in a hammock.
Our very first night here, I heard my grandfather talking to Abuela.
"Tell me what you think of our daughters companion."
I held my breath, because it was my father Jacinto he was asking about.
"Well, Chuy," said the voice of Abuela Ana, floating from behind the blanket, "Jacinto is a dreamer, an idealist ... honest, yes, and a good father. I only hope that he won't leave our daughter crying."'
"She brought the children out to us because of danger in town. Did she tell you, Ana? Jacinto has been imprisoned twice already for political activities. . . ."
"Yes, Chuy, I know."
"You knew and didn't tell me?"
"It was over, Chuy. Why should I give you more worry?"
"It is not over, is it? He continues with the same work."
"That and his job of drawing pictures to build houses..."
I heard a snort from my grandfather. Not a mean laugh, but still. . . "Ana, how can holding meetings and drawing pictures be work? Truly. How can a man who doesn't sweat find favor with God?"
My grandmother answered something in a pleasant tone, but I couldn't hear the words. My heart was beating in my ears. I went to sleep planning ways to sweat when my grandfather was around.
Twisting twine, you get hot even when the sun is low.
I bend my arms like wings, scoop into the water, and begin paddling in.
The sun drops suddenly behind the tallest mountain. Night is here. At the door of the hut, Grandfather Chuy sits on the split-log bench and smokes his cigar. He is resting, thinking, talking to himself Romy and I have worked hard on the twine. We've filled sixteen bobbins, each holding about twenty meters of twine. I write it down so that when Abuela goes to trade with Don Ignacio, she can tell him just how much is there.
"Look what he writes, Chuy!" says Abuela, showing him the paper. "Felipe's schooling is good." I can see by the light of her candle that she has tears in her eyes. "With such schooling, they'll never take this boy for the army," she says.
"True, they seem to want only illiterates for the army," says my grandfather.